I haven’t lived a life full of men ... in fact, it's quite the opposite. I'm the youngest of three sisters and my parents separated when I was five. Dad moved to Adelaide while we all stayed in Melbourne. We had four boy cousins, but they all lived in Queensland. Or Canberra. Or somewhere. Add to that the fact I went to all-girls schools from year 3 onwards and you could be forgiven for thinking that my life was loosely modelled on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I even have a sister called Beth.
For the first 20 years of my life, men were a great mystery to me. Growing up, I never knew how I was supposed to act around them. I got all my cues from movies and TV. Greg Brady, Darrin Stephens and Pa Ingalls all added pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of what men meant to me. I gathered this info and concluded that men like flares, crazy paving and slopping up stew with cornbread after a hard day’s woodchoppin’.
I met my first true love when I was studying teaching. I followed him to his pigeonhole and learnt his name was Lee. Later that month, I ran into him by chance in the city and we sat in a greasy spoon and fed coins into the little jukebox. We bonded over our mutual appreciation of Massive Attack and Madonna. We stayed together through share houses, graduations, internships and jobs. We had two fights in seven years. The first was over whether or not Ginger Spice was sexy and the second was over whether or not he should go on a tacky bucks’ night at a strip joint. He went. And got decked. That was the end of his foray into sleaziness.
I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had too much exposure to the men your friends have warned you about. I just haven’t met them. Or if I have, I haven’t let them into my world. I’m sure they exist … but not in my universe.
When I worked in advertising I met dozens of creative, hilarious, gentle men. They never wanted to sleep with me, so I was free to love them with complete fervour. I caught up with one fellow eight years after he first gave me my chance at a career in advertising and I thanked him. He told me he never hired anyone he wouldn’t like to sleep with. We guffawed over this. And I was flattered. Not horrified. There haven’t been too many men in my life who have hit on me, and frankly I’ll take attention wherever it comes!
Men have taught me to not sweat the small stuff. They run at life without considering the drama of it all, the consequences
I’ve always appreciated a man’s uncomplicated nature. All the women I know are also as transparent. It’s a trait I like. People say that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and I probably would have agreed with that statement in my teens. The boys on my tram, smelling of a curious “boy blend” of pencil shavings, hockey sticks, orange rind and cheap deodorant, were the most intimidating people I’d ever seen. I’d stare at their school bags just to see what was inside. I was fact-finding. Like Miss Marple, but with newly shaved legs and a navy hair ribbon.
But as I’ve grown, mainly into myself, I can’t muster one example of a man I do not understand. The one I live with now is a dream. Funny, honest and hard-working – like all the women in my life. And I have two little boys of my own and five nephews (no nieces), so now I’m swimming in boys. They are all I know. My sisters and I are trying to raise these tiny human beings to be empathetic, kind and industrious, just as we would if they wore tutus instead of tool belts. They are defined by their lack of drama. They are a good influence on us all.
When I was 29, I was thrown into the Big Brother house and it was there I learnt the most about men. I remember thinking at the time, “They’re so fun!” Men have taught me to not sweat the small stuff. They run at life without considering the drama of it all, the consequences. Life is a trip.
Last night, in a sea of toys and kids’ stuff, with four baskets of washing to fold and a 4am wake-up looming, I was attempting to get my one-year-old into a romper suit for bed. It was like trying to get an octopus into a plastic bag. Sensing my panic, my partner looked at me with his shiny eyes, scruffy beard and a wry grin and said, “Marriage, kids … the whole catastrophe, eh?”
How do they do that? With one sentence I was able to let it all go and enjoy the chaos.
Men. Maybe it’s true, you can’t live without them. And why would you want to?
Chrissie Swan is the co-host of Mix 101.1’s breakfast show in Melbourne and 3pm Pick-Up nationally.
This article first appeared in Sunday Life.